Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Well it's hard to take a shine to you: ONLY EVER HER.

Only Ever HerOnly Ever Her by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Annie Taft is 26, ready to marry Scott Hanson, and move somewhere fresh. Away from the town of Ludlow, where she is known as the daughter of the murdered woman. Cordell Lewis was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of Annie's mother, Lydia Taft--largely on the word of Annie, who was only three. But his lawyer is advocating for a new trial--and Cordell's release. It's now four days before Annie's wedding; Cordell is out of jail, and Annie has disappeared. At first, Annie's aunt, Faye, who has raised her niece since the age of three, thinks she has hidden away due to nerves. But as the wedding date inches closer, Faye and her daughter, Clary, realize something is amiss. Was it Cordell, seeking revenge after all this time? Or someone who knows Annie well?

"Some people hear their mother's voices in their heads, but Annie hears her aunt's, the closest thing she has to a mother."

This book wasn't anything like what I was expecting, and honestly, it was a rather strange tale, but it was still rather interesting. It's a character-driven read, not a suspense novel, but wow, I got really attached to some of these characters. I picked this one up based solely on the strength of the last Marybeth Mayhew Whalen novel I read, WHEN WE WERE WORTHY. She has a real knack for capturing her characters: they jump off they page and stick with you. In particular, I fell hard for Faye and Clary in this one. And, of course, there was Annie, who was always there, motivating nearly every character:

"She has to make the town happy, like she always has. It is her act of service, her offering on behalf of the greater good. When you're the only survivor of the town's darkest moment, you do whatever you can to bring light."

There are a lot of narrators in the novel, but together they expertly show the web and ties of a small town, where it seems everyone has a secret of some sorts. I thought the beginning of the book was a bit slow, but it picked up in the second half, becoming rather dramatic and suspenseful. It's also an emotional read, as you become more and more invested in the characters. I expected more with Annie's storyline and disappearance--the ending sort of fizzled there for me. The more compelling piece is truly her mother's murder and its aftermath, especially on Faye.

Still, this was an interesting and poignant read featuring some excellent characters. While it was a bit slow to start, I found myself quite immersed in the second half. I really enjoy what Whalen can do with her small town personalities. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley; it is available everyone as of 05/07/2019.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Still reading!

Hello book friends! Sorry for the lack of reviews lately - I have been incredibly busy at work. Don't worry, I'm still reading (just finished the latest Ruth Galloway book from Elly Griffiths) and soon you'll be hit with a whole deluge of reviews from me. So don't lose faith. (I'm about to hit 200 reviews on Netgalley, and I'm pretty excited to earn that badge, I won't lie, ha!) And if you're my Goodreads friend, you can still keep up with what I'm reading - and know that I'm commenting and liking posts there.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

She's picked herself up off the ground: BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS.

Burying the Honeysuckle GirlsBurying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Althea Bell returns home after (another) stint in rehab to find her father further stricken by Alzheimer's and her older brother--who is running for political office--fully entrenched in the seat of power in the family. Wynn doesn't want Althea and her sketchy past to ruin his chances at political fame and fortune. Even worse, Althea is shocked when she learns that the women in her family have a history of mental illness, which seems to come on around age 30--and Althea is just a few weeks away from her own birthday. Althea's mother passed away at that age, and Althea is determined to discover what happened to her. But doing so will dredge up family secrets that it seems Wynn wants hidden--and he'll do anything to keep Althea from shaming the family name

This won't be a very long review, because I listened to this book on audiobook (technically the audio that comes with my Kindle Unlimited subscription), and I couldn't take any notes or do any highlighting as I listened, as I was in the car. But I do want to point out that this is the *first ever* audiobook that I've ever listened to from start to finish! I'm not very good with verbal listening--even in college lectures, I had to take copious notes to retain the information, and I could just never keep up with audiobooks: my brain always wandered off. But I was commuting a lot for work and gave this one a try. It stuck!

This book felt a little slow in places, but now I'll never know if it was because it was an audiobook or what. I felt bad for Althea, who really seems to have received a bum rap: mother dies when she's a kid, a pretty awful brother, drug addiction, and more. She's a rather compelling narrator, and her family's backstory is interesting. The whole "I'm going to go crazy when I'm 30" thing seemed a little overblown and histrionic at times--seriously, you can't truly think the moment you turn 30, everything changes. But, I still found myself caught up in Althea's story, and I really loved hearing about her grandmother and her own struggles in the '30s. There were pieces of this book that were really touching and heartbreaking and the last half, especially, really got to me.

Overall, it was fun to explore an audiobook. It sure made my two-hour (each way) commute more palatable, and I found myself fascinated that one-person could do the voices of so many people. I found this story pretty compelling and liked the fact that it spanned several generations. The points it made about mental illness--especially the way women were treated in the past (and even now, really)--were very illuminating and well-done. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Where I keep all my yesterdays: THE INVITED.

The InvitedThe Invited by Jennifer McMahon

My rating: 4.5+ of 5 stars

Helen and Nate have a nice, settled life as teachers at a private school in Connecticut. But they also have aspirations for a simpler life. So using their savings and an inheritance, they buy 40+ acres in the tiny village of Hartsboro, Vermont and decide to build their own dream house themselves. Helen, a history teacher, wants a house and land with history--and she gets her wish when she discovers the story of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who apparently lived (and died) on their property over a hundred years ago. Marked by the villagers as a witch, Hattie was killed, leaving behind her young daughter, Jane. Helen becomes fascinated with Hattie's past and begins trying to find out what happened to her--and her family members. But a series of more and more weird events start happening once they move in. Is it just the people of Hartsboro, who don't like outsiders? Or is it Hattie? And are Helen and Nate in danger?

I just love Jennifer McMahon's books and she's someone whom I will read anything they write. This was such a good book that drew me from the very beginning. I started it while on vacation in Vermont, so I was really excited that it happened to take place in Vermont--a place I'd never been until this year. McMahon's descriptive language makes it so easy to visualize her (often eerie) settings, as well as her characters.

Along with Helen and Nate, our slightly hippyish couple, we have Olive, a teenage girl from Hartsboro, and her dad and aunt, plus various Hartsboro townsfolk. Olive was a very compelling character; she's been abandoned by her mother and is teased and bullied terribly by her schoolmates, since the town all believes her mom ran off with another man. Her bereft father isn't much help, leaving her to raise herself or rely on her aunt. She has one friend, Mike, who is a good guy, but annoys our feisty heroine with his wimpy-ness. It's hard not to fall for Olive, believe me. Even Helen will grow on you, too. And no matter what, they are so easy to picture.

The novel is told from a variety of points of view, but mainly Olive and Helen. We learn a lot about each of them. As I said, it drew me in from the beginning and kept me reading. As with most of McMahon's books, it's layered with that creepy, mysterious edge. In many ways, it's a proper ghost story. But she always manages to write it so that instead of rolling your eyes, you feel a little creeped out, or find yourself looking over your shoulder at night. Hattie herself plays a really strong role in this book, and I liked how well the story set up the idea of how much people (and small towns) fear what they don't know.

"What people don't understand, they destroy."

It's funny, I could guess where a lot of this book was leading, yet it in no way diminished my enjoyment of it. I could see how that might annoy some, but it didn't bother me in the least. I was completely immersed in the characters, the eerie ghost story, and trying to piece together all the plot pieces. Hattie's story--and that of her descendants--is fascinating. There was just something about this book that I loved: that intangible piece that makes you a part of the story, keeps you flipping the pages, and makes you feel both sad and amazed when you finish the book. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Doubleday, and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

You will know the fear all love endures: VERITY.

VerityVerity by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Lowen Ashleigh's life is basically falling apart. She's a broke writer who hasn't left her home in days, maybe weeks. Her mom had been living with her while sick with colon cancer, including hospice for the last three months. Now Lowen's mom has passed away, and Lowen is emerging back into the real world--financially broke and somewhat emotionally broken. Her agent calls her to a meeting, where she's asked to ghost write the final books in a series for the popular author Verity Crawford. Verity--who has been seriously injured in a car wreck--is unable to complete her books, and her husband, Jeremy, wants to hire Lowen. Lowen needs the money, so she agrees. She also finds Jeremy attractive and interesting, and she arrives at the Crawford home to go through Verity's office and manuscripts. There she finds an unfinished autobiography of Verity's--one that sheds light on how her twin daughters passed away, her relationship with Jeremy, and more. Lowen finds its chapters horrifying and hides it, but as her feelings for Jeremy grow, she wonders if he should see its contents. And she wonders if Verity is as truly injured as she seems.

"I'm not looking for my fifteen minutes of fame. I'm looking for a paycheck."

So I've never read anything by Colleen Hoover, but so many of my Goodreads friends were raving about this romantic thriller. When I saw that I could read it via Kindle Unlimited, I jumped at the chance. It was definitely an interesting read and one that really picked up in the second half. It's a different sort of tale, too, which made it a refreshing read. Be prepared for a dark story--Verity and Jeremy have lost both of their young twin daughters, and now Verity is injured as well. Verity's autobiography is not light reading, and overall, the story is a creepy, bleak tale.

"I think Verity might have made up the term. After our daughters died, she said we were Chronics. Prone to chronic tragedy. One terrible thing after another."

When Lowen comes to the Crawford home, she picks up on some of this eerie energy that permeates the book. However, Hoover makes sure that we know that Lowen is an unreliable narrator as well. She's a sleepwalker, often so tired that she herself isn't sure if she's sure of what she's seeing or hallucinating from exhaustion. As a reader, we aren't sure who to trust. It makes for an engaging story, where you are never sure what (or who) to believe.

"My mother used to say that houses have a soul, and if that is true, the soul of Verity Crawford's house is as dark as they come."

Overall, I'm not sure I can rave about this one quite as much as some reviews I've read, but I did enjoy it. It's a quick read, it's ominous and spooky, and there are some great dramatic twists and turns. The ending makes up for a lot, so I would certainly say it's worth a read. I know that a lot of Hoover's books are not quite like this one, but I still look forward to reading some of her other books. 3.75 stars for this one--rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

When I see myself I'm seeing you too: THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW.

The Girl He Used to KnowThe Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Annika Rose feels lost in the world. She has trouble reading other people's emotions and social cues. She feels safest alone--around books and animals. That changes in college, when she meets Jonathan. Jonathan brings something out in Annika that she didn't know was within her. But something happens between them, and now ten years has passed since the two have seen each other. When they run into each other in a store, Annika's feelings for Jonathan come rushing back. But can show him that things have changed, she has changed? And even so, does he feel the same way about her?

This is a quiet but powerful love story, and I fell deeply for the character of Annika. At first, I was worried this book would be an Eleanor Oliphant clone, but it easily held its own. As I started reading this novel, I was curious where it would go, and it took me a little time to adjust to the fact that it might not roar off and go crazy places, if that makes any sense. As someone who reads a lot of thrillers and mysteries, my brain learned that it was instead a lovely story about two people who had been in love, lost each other, and now had a second chance to find each other again.

My favorite part of this book was Annika. She felt like a kindred spirit in many ways--her love of books, animals, and the way she was overwhelmed in the world around her, memorizing the actions and social steps of others so she could fit in. I highlighted so many quotes that resonated with me.

"I required more downtime than most people. I needed to be able to read and sleep and be alone."

Graves captures Annika perfectly. The little details she puts in; the stories she includes. I could picture her so well. I fell for her, and I rooted for her from the beginning. It was easy to get swept up in the story when you loved the main character so much.

The novel is told mostly from Annika's perspective--going back and forth between the present and ten years ago--but we do hear from Jonathan occasionally. The format works really well. It pulls you into their love story and makes you a part of their romance. It's a surprisingly sexy one at times (be prepared) but also sweet and lovely, too. There are heartbreaking moments and moments of true resilience.

Overall, I haven't read a book like this in a long time. It was a different read, but not at all in a bad way. I really liked the characters, I was caught up in their story, and felt really changed and affected by the end. I definitely recommend it. 4+ stars.

I was very excited to win a copy of this book via a Goodreads Giveaway - thank you!

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Monday, April 08, 2019

From the memory of the wall: I AM WATCHING.

I Am WatchingI Am Watching by Emma Kavanagh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isla found the first bodies by the wall when she was only fifteen--four bodies lined up. Only one survived, teenage Ramsey. His brother, Zach, was among the dead. Three weeks later, another body is found. Then, two weeks later, another. Terror and fear run rampant in the small town of Briganton until Isla's father, Detective Sergeant Eric Bell, brings the killer, Heath McGowan, to justice. Now Isla is a professor of criminal psychology; she specializes in brain function and its influences on criminal behavior. Maybe she can figure out why serial killers are what they are. Maybe she can prevent what happened in Briganton from happening in another town. She and her partner, Connor, have scanned and studied the brains of twelve men--all serial killers. Now, they are on to their thirteenth: Heath McGowan. Meanwhile, Mina a detective on the Briganton force, was drawn to the department by the thought of working with the famous Eric Bell. She answers a routine inquiry for Victoria Prew, who feels that someone has been inside her home. But later that night, a call comes in. They've found Victoria at the wall. It's happening again in Briganton. With Heath McGowan in prison, who has killed Victoria--and will they strike again?

"It began with the bodies."

This was a really good book--just an enjoyable, dark thriller that kept me guessing until the end. I totally thought I had it all figured out, but... nope! Putting all the puzzle pieces together was actually really fun, even though a lot of this one was really gruesome (think: lots of bodies, lots of death, and many piling up at said wall). I kept telling my wife about the plot, and I'm not sure enjoyed the thought of all those bodies-ha!

The characters in this one are not always the most nuanced, but Isla is great--she finds the bodies at age fifteen and now she's a grown woman, struggling to decipher the minds of serial killers. Her father, meanwhile, made his career on the apprehension of Heath McGowan, whom Isla herself is now interviewing and examining. And Mina, new to the small town, is wary of how the case was handled so many years ago, but hesitant to confront her idol.

"She was a thirty-five-year-old woman, and she was afraid of the dark. Heath McGowan was the reason."

There are lots of red herrings in the story and plenty of twists and turns to keep you puzzling and guessing. Despite it being a small town, there is no shortage of suspects. If you enjoy a good, dark thriller, I recommend this one. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Kensington Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Sunday, April 07, 2019

And the battle lines are clearly drawn: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW.

The Mother-in-LawThe Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Lucy was so excited to meet Diana, the mother of her boyfriend, Ollie. Lucy's mother died when she was a teen and she hoped for a good relationship with her hopeful mother-in-law. But Lucy and Diana don't get off to an easy start--Diana has a rigid set of views formed by her own life experiences. From simply co-existing to arguing about parenting to eventual fisticuffs, their relationship is volatile. Then, one night, Lucy and Ollie hear a knock on their door. The police arrive and tell them that Diana is dead in an apparent suicide. But as the investigation progresses, it looks as if there is more to the story. Everyone in the family has history with Diana; but did someone actually kill her?

"'Then I'm very sorry to inform you,' the policewoman starts, and I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law is dead."

This was my first Sally Hepworth novel, and I have heard good things, so I was excited to read some of her work. I found it to be a fast read, with a set of engaging characters. The book alternates between Lucy and Diana's point of view, with much of the story being told in the past. I found the format to be very effective; it worked very well at drawing you into the story and keeping you guessing at what was going on. Many parts of the story were told twice, in some ways, as both women told their side of the story, yet it never felt repetitive.

The main characters in this one are Lucy and Diana, but we have strong appearances from Ollie, his sister Antoinette "Nettie, " and Tom, Diana's husband. I can see why people enjoy Hepworth's novels--I felt very much a part of the story, and I was certainly stumped along the way. Sometimes there was a little too much rumination about mother-in-laws and the meaning of families for my taste, but oh well. I was too eager to find out what had happened to Diana.

"More importantly, you don't choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all."

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Hepworth book. It was a quick, engaging, and interesting read that kept my interest. 3.75 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 04/23/2019.

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Monday, April 01, 2019

Every day that you get up and force your cards: MOXIE.

MoxieMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vivian Carter is known for being the dutiful kid. Her mom was a feminist and had a rebellious side in high school; she couldn't wait to get out of their small-minded town. But after Vivian's dad died when she was a baby, they came back to town so her mom could raise her next door to her grandparents. But then Viv starts to get fed up with the misogyny of her football-focused school, where the principal, the teachers, and even the kids seem to only care about football. The football players can get away with anything--including harassment. The school budget is focused on one thing: football. Viv finds inspiration in her Mom's punk rock past, creating an anonymous feminist zine, "Moxie," that she circulates around the school. It takes a little while, but soon Viv is creating friendships with different kids. And suddenly, it seems like the girls of Moxie are banding together way beyond anything football can do.

"I'm a girl who studies for tests. I'm a girl who turns in homework on time. I'm a girl who tells her grandparents she'll be over in five minutes and shows up in three. I'm a girl who doesn't cause a fuss. I even shrink into my desk when a teacher calls on me in class. I'm a girl who would prefer to evaporate into the ether rather than draw even positive attention to herself."

This book has been on my shelf for a little while; I'd bought it as I'd heard good things. I'm working on my self-imposed #readwhatyouown challenge this year, and once I heard that Amy Poehler was going to direct an adaption of this one at Netflix, I figured it was a good time to pick it up.

MOXIE was a slow starter, but turned into a really rousing, empowering read, and I'm excited to see how it translates to the screen. It's incredibly timely and also very terrifying. The more I read it, the more horrified I was that this was reality for females in high school. So much of what Mathieu describes you know happens, but as a parent of two young girls, it's just awful to read about all these kids endure.

There's almost two plot lines in this one--the feminist saga of Moxie and a romance featuring Vivian and another boy at school. I've seen some complaints that the romance detracted from the overall plot, but I actually enjoyed it. Vivian even worries that she is distracting herself from Moxie, at times, because of her relationship. The romance also provides some comedic moments and humanizes Vivian, making her seem more like a real teen. She's a great character, and I really like her.

Overall, even though this was a little slow to begin, I really enjoyed it. It's very YA, if that makes any sense--it's a great book to have on the shelves of all high schools. I would rate it as a 3.5-star read, but I'm bumping it up to 4-stars, because it makes you laugh, cheer, and nearly cry. You'll also fall for the characters, especially Vivian and her friends. I'm looking forward to see how Poehler and crew bring this to Netflix.

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